Launching the new Irish Studies program at St. John Fisher College * March 16, 2012

Launching the new Irish Studies program at St. John Fisher College * March 16, 2012

Friday, March 23, 2012

Fisher launches Irish Studies program with daylong conference

St. John Fisher College introduced its new Irish Studies Program by hosting an all-day Irish Studies Conference at the campus on Friday March 16. 

The conference, “Ireland Today: History & Heritage in an Ever-Changing World,” was broken into sessions throughout the day that covered a wide variety of topics.

Tim Madigan opens the conference
The first session lasted about an hour with four speakers who introduced the materials and resources the Irish Studies Program will cover.  The first was Tim Madigan, an assistant professor of philosophy at Fisher and director of the Irish Studies Program.  His session was titled “Frederick Douglass & Ireland: The Unexpected Irish Connection of Rochester’s Most Noted Civil Rights Leader.”   Madigan talked about his experiences in Ireland and was excited to get the ball rolling with more courses offered in the fall for Irish studies, literature and culture.  He gives “best wishes to the new Irish studies program and to the students enrolled.” 

After Madigan, Fionnuala Regan, adjunct professor of English, discussed how she uses one of Ireland’s most famous writers in her creative writing classes. She described using James Joyce’s Dubliners short stories as a model of creative writing courses and an inspiration for the program.  She has hopes in the future to collaborate with students in Ireland through video conferencing. 

The third speaker was from the Rochester community.  Thomas O’Connell, president of  Rochester/Waterford Sister City Committee talked on “Waterford & Rochester: Partners in Business and Education.” He described the opportunities for the new program at Fisher to make connections with this committee and to create international friendships.  He discussed the business side of the new program in providing partnerships in higher education and the main purpose of their support is to gain that personal relationship with tourism and education.  O’Connell said he is passionate for “shared history and creating a tangible difference for students.”

The first session ended with an International Studies graduate student from Fisher, Samantha Adams, who traveled to Ireland last summer and created her capstone paper on “The Peace Accords in Northern Ireland: A Student’s Perspective.”  She was in Ireland for a month to collect research and said some of the most valuable information was the gathering of newspapers every day in each area she visited.  She talked about her experiences that related to peace and bringing people together such as the visits by Queen Elizabeth and President Obama. 

The first session of the conference was successful and brought in a good number of people from the community along with Fisher students.

- Emily Clary

Twitter coverage of session 1

Photo slideshow of session 1

Keynote covers Irish political and economic prospects

Former Syracuse area Congressman Jim Walsh and Alex Maskey, a Sinn Fein legislator from Belfast, Northern Ireland, offered their views on contemporary Ireland as the keynote speakers at Ireland Today, the first annual Irish Studies Program conference at St. John Fisher College on Friday, March 16.

Jim Walsh

Walsh gave a thorough description of his Irish background, which included growing up in the Tipperary Hill neighborhood of Syracuse. As a member of Congress he became involved in U.S. efforts to bring peace between Catholic and Protestant factions in Northern Ireland, traveling to the country for the first time in 1995 as part of a delegation headed by President Bill Clinton. After that first 38 hour trip to Ireland and back home again on zero hours of sleep, he said has made 25 trips to work with peace process and, more recently efforts, to get Ireland back on its feet economically.

Don Bain introduces keynote speakers.
He described the economic rise and fall of the country, including how in the late 1980s 33 percent of the country was on welfare. The global economic boom of the 1990s and early 2000s, along with Ireland joining the European Union, turned it from one of the poorest countries in Europe to one of the richest. Much of that economic progress was undone, however, by the financial system collapse and recession that started in 2008.

This has led him to be involved in efforts to rebuild the economy. His efforts were eventually noticed by Ireland’s prime minister who asked him to become part of the Global Irish Network. This is a group of 270 participants from all different countries working together to establish peace and stability in Ireland.

Since these  efforts have begun, hopes have risen, business and culture are again growing, and debt is being resolved. “There is no doubt this financial crisis will move to the rear view mirror in Ireland as it has in the U.S.,” he concluded.

Honorable Alex Maskey

As an equalizer to his counterpart’s heavy, revealing presentation, Maskey provided a bit of comic relief, with a funny story about President Clinton’s involvement and how there was a misunderstanding between him and the residents of Ireland when the news was released that he would be lighting their Christmas tree.

Maskey turned to more serious topics, however, in discussing the political situation he was raised with in Belfast, during the 1970s era of armed conflict between the British rulers and groups that wanted independence for the province of Northern Ireland.

But in the early 1980s, a new generation of leaders said the armed conflict should  end and a different way to resolve things should be found. Sinn Fein, the political party representing the pro-independence forces, began winning elections to Belfast City Council and other bodies.

“It showed Republicans (those seeking independence) and Unionists (those favoring British rule) that we could work together through an electoral process,” he said

He said that the one thing they needed to understand was that “it is important to listen to all sides when it comes to politics.” He said that as long as the creative juices keep flowing, this generation is going to end this conflict and that the new development plan is all about inclusivity.

“Our country and my people have learned a lot in the recent years,” but there is still more to be learned, he acknowledged.

He ended his presentation by emphasizing the impact of ordinary people in terms of help.  “Ordinary people can do wonderful things when you know what you want to do.”
- Danielle Barteld and Jack Rosenberry

Twitter coverage of session

Photo slideshow of session

Second session explores Rochester ties to Ireland

Session 2 of the Ireland Today conference featured three speakers who covered the close historical and contemporary connections between the local community and the Emerald Isle.

Irish Revolution leader's mother was from Rochester

On Friday, March 16, St. John Fisher College hosted an Irish Studies Conference to help Irish men and woman could celebrate their heritage, as well as teach others about their culture. Throughout the different sections of the celebration, guest speakers who spoke about different topics related to Irish culture.

One of the speakers was Patricia Carey, a Rochester woman who enjoys Irish music and studying Irish history. She spoke about a historical Rochester woman named Catherine Wheelwright, who lived from 1858 to 1932. Carey described her life, introducing her children and multiple husbands. While living in New York and married to a Cuban man she became the mother of √Čamon de Valera, who became a prominent political figure in Ireland. He also led the fight for Ireland’s independence from Britain from 1919 to 1921.

Although not born in the United States, Catherine (by now Wheelwright) and her family became Rochesterians, and members of Blessed Sacrament Church. As Irish Catholics, she and her family established their lives in Rochester, and their house on Brighton Street can still be seen today.

The purpose of Carey’s speech was to inform her audience about the Irish roots in Rochester. Although the Irish culture may not be the most represented heritage in this city, there are still strong symbols and pieces of heavy Irish culture that are still a part of the community. 
- Ben Bostick

Couple describes their work with Irish Children's Program

Suzanne and Gary Roscoe took the stage during the second session of the St. John Fisher Irish Studies Conference on Friday March 16 to speak about the Irish Children’s Program.

Gary began by summing up the program, which brings children ages 10-14 to Rochester from Belfast, Northern Ireland each summer. The Irish Children’s Program is a non-profit organization that started in 1982. Since then it has brought more than 600 children from Ireland through various donations and fundraising.

The program aims to break the barrier between Catholic and Protestant children, who wouldn’t have the opportunity to ever meet in Ireland due to religious tension. Gary explained the program by saying that they aim to “just let the kids be kids.”

He described three things that he loved about the program: the bravery of the kids who come to stay with complete strangers, the support given since the program is 100 percent volunteer run, and the people that it attracts. He and Suzanne have been very active in the program and it was clear that they are very passionate about it.

Suzanne followed up by sharing their experience of hosting one of the children. Suzanne, Gary, and their two children were graced with the presence of 12-year-old Nicole. They became quite attached to Nicole and ended up footing the bill for her to visit for the next five summers. Suzanne described the hosting as “rewarding and eye opening.”

 It was clear that the Irish Children’s Program has found a place in the couple’s hearts and home. To learn more about the Irish Children’s Program, donate, or become a host visit
- Krista Pilla

History professor explores Irish American experience in Rochester

Another guest speaker at the Irish Studies program at St. John Fisher College was the college’s own professor Carolyn Vacca, who also is Monroe County historian.  She used her time to speak about how courses can be used to teach students more about immigration.

She touched at the heart strings of her audience by explain how hard it is for immigrants to leave everything that he or she knows to live in an unknown place, and not be able to communicate very well with the others that he or she is around. She spoke about the history of Irish immigration to the United States, and how immigration was a vital part of the culture, growth, and economy of the United States. Irish immigration to the United States was heavily influenced by the potato famine, as well as other pull factors from America such as the hope for a better job in the growing job market.

Vacca hopes that by studying topics such as these, students will overcome discrimination towards immigrants. She hopes to relay the message that, “we can use our past experiences to impact our future.” These future courses are sure to open eyes to our changing world, and will be one step closer to becoming one human race..
- Ben Bostick  

Twitter coverage of second session

Photo slideshow of second session

Third session puts focus on family

The third session of the Ireland Today Irish Studies conference at St. John Fisher College on March 16, 2012 started off with a video greeting from Fisher students studying in Ireland, then shifted to a a focus on family. 

Fisher Safety and Security Director Mike McCarthy described the research he put into a book on his family’s history, titled From Cork to the New World: A Journey for Survival, which started with asking why his ancestors left their homes. Initially, it was difficult to find information because the stories had not been passed down by those who emigrated. He explained that was because the life they left behind was such a difficult one that they were reluctant to talk about it.

Mike McCarthy discusses his book
McCarthy said he was surprised to find himself tackling this project because “I never fashioned myself as a writer.” But he found that years of police work, which involved writing descriptive reports about investigations, actually prepared him well. He also credited Fisher professor Dee Hogan with helping him edit and craft the language that went into the books.

McCarthy was followed by genealogist Dennis Hogan, who provided a number of tips for starting or extending research into the roots of Irish families. Among the challenges this research presents, for example, is that typical patterns of naming children after ancestors lead to many cousins having the same names (since all were named after the same grandparent).

Variants in name spelling and inconsistent use of the “O” and “Mc” prefixes on names also can make finding the correct records difficult, he said.

The third session was concluded with a talk from Lavery Library director Melissa Jadlos about the college’s copy of the Book of Kells.

The original Book of Kells at Trinity College in Dublin was created by Irish monks around the ninth century (circa 800 AD). A few years ago, the college allowed a publishing company to create approximately 1,500 facsimile copies and with the help of the local Irish community one of those was purchased for Fisher. It’s housed on the second floor, and is one of the library’s prized possessions.
- Jack Rosenberry

Twitter coverage of session 3

Photo slide show of session 3